Most hot summers scarlet fever and diphtheria would sweep up the vale, attacking children of around school age. The ambulance would take them off to the isolation hospital at Little Bromwich then the men from the Health Department would arrive to fumigate the bedrooms where the child or children had been. All the bed clothes were sent to Bacchus Road to be sterilised; these were then returned the same day.
Walls were stripped of paper, ceilings rarely papered, they were only whitewashed. The whole room was then lime washed, a little bit of raddle added for colouring purposes. Sometimes instead of raddle the blue bag was used giving the option of a blue room or a reddish brown room . Reckitts blue was used in washing. "Out of the blue comes the whitest wash”. The men that did this job were often called bug blinders, as in the course of the work many of the disgusting pests were killed.
During my life as a paperhanger I have often had to do quite a few jobs of bug blinding, and not always in houses, although most jobs were in bedrooms. Often a bedroom to be papered, as you entered the room, a smell would be noticed. For just as bugs could smell the presences of blood and be attracted for a feed, so they could also be detected by their smell. The lady of the house must be told, then, you were shown the door promptly, or a woman crying her eyes out pleading all ignorance of there being bugs. There it was easy to prove that they were there, as in that class of work, (cottage bumping) the wallpaper was taken round internal angles and mouldings, all that was needed was to pull a bit of paper away and there they were, in their scores or hundreds, mostly hungry and waiting for a meal. When you were shown the door most times you would be asked later if you could help, like a fool I usually agreed.
The wallpaper had to be removed, taking care not to be a host to the pests. Besides the internal corners, borders were the next place to be wary of. From the border the pests would get to the ceiling crawl to a spot over the unsuspecting target and drop, they then had a meal. I believe bugs could go for long periods in between meals. People so bitten would come up in red lumps, often referred to as heat lumps, but eat lumps would be a better description. I have dealt with the problem in houses, schools, factories they where anywhere where a small crack would give them shelter, shakes in timber, tongue and grooved boarding, old clothes besides wallpaper could all harbour them.
At one factory making children’s clothing had a really bad. Infestation in the workers cloakroom. Women must have taken them home nightly. Three of use dealt with that episode. I used hot Buxton lime while my mates waited for them with blow lamps. All the match boarding was stripped out and burned. All holes were filled and the whole of the cloakroom painted with three coats of paint, the floor was treated liberally with spirits of tar, the boss of the firm was so pleased he gave us a generous tip. Women would worry if you found bugs in their house, thinking they were the only ones with the problem, but in the old terraces and back to backs. if one house had them most of the adjoining houses had them too, as they could travel through the smallest of cracks and across loft spaces to find fresh food.
It was not always bugs that were dealt with. Steam flies were present in kitchens etc, even hospitals were plagued with steam
Flies. Cockroaches were often found and fleas seemed to occur anywhere. When wallpaper came to the merchants in bales wrapped in hessian; fleas would live inside the paper and would jump out when the paper was being trimmed.
The men from Bacchus road where doing it regularly.
By Fred Horton (uncle), Submitted by R.F.Horton